My second Women in Horror Month interview is with Dana Fredsti, who writes zombie stories with a strong, funny female protagonist, and just kicks butt on so many levels. Check out the interview below, and please go enjoy Dana’s books afterward!
GGS: Hi Dana! I’m so excited to feature you today! It’s the sixth anniversary of Women in Horror Month (#WiHM666) and I’m hoping to spread the word about kickass female horror authors such as yourself. Why don’t you begin by telling us about your Ashley Parker/Plague Town Series, as I really enjoyed Plague Town and I think my readers would enjoy Ashley Parker’s fierce female attitude. Strong Female Protagonists for the win!
Dana: Go strong female protagonists!!! 🙂 First of all, I’m really glad you enjoyed Plague Town (and hope you’ll enjoy the sequels equally, and yes, that’s a shameless plug for Plague Nation and Plague World, but there ya go).
The elevator pitch for the series is Buffy meets the Walking Dead, meaning strong female protagonist in a zombie apocalypse, with lots of humor interspersed with the horror, and characters who grow with each book. I really wanted to create a heroine who didn’t start out with the trope of a huge chip on her shoulder as I knew there’d be enough emotional angst along her journey already. But I wanted to give her plenty of room for growth.
Some readers have complained that Ashley is too immature for a 29 year old in the original version of Plague Town (which was released as A Plague Upon All Houses by Ravenous Romance), Ashley was 19 years old and in her first year of college. When the rights were sold to Titan Books, my editor (the amazing and wonderful Steve Saffel) felt that the readership for the books would be increased if we made her older. So… she became a recently divorced and insecure 29 year-old, going back to college and trying to fit in with a younger crowd.
GGS: Awesome. I hope all the zombie lovers who are reading this interview check out the Ashley Parker series.
Let’s talk about how you came upon your love for horror. It seems that many writers come to love horror by discovering Stephen King really young, as I did. How did you come to love the horror genre, and when did you first know you were going to become a horror writer?
Dana: I’ve loved horror since I was … jeez, pretty much since I started reading/watching TV. My grandpa on my dad’s side used to read my sister and me Edgar Allen Poe for bedtime stories, and I loved watching Saturday and Sunday horror hosted movie shows, like Moona Lisa and Seymour. I loved being scared. I’m a bit older than you are, I suspect, so Stephen King was just frosting on the horror cake by the time I first read Salem’s Lot and The Shining.
As far as first knowing when I was going to become a horror writer… well, I love many genres and horror is just one of them. However, I have a short story from 7th Grade with a handwritten note from my teacher that says: “Great job. Next time maybe write something not so morbid.”
I’m very proud of that note. 🙂
GGS: Ha, that’s hilarious! I had similar situation in elementary school. I’m surprised I wasn’t sent to see the school psychologist.
My next question: I saw on your bio that you have a background in theatrical sword-fighting. That is totally bad-ass. How did you get into swordsmanship (swordswomanship?) and do you still practice?
Dana: I started my career in swordsmanship through eavesdropping! I was at a new Renaissance Faire being held in Balboa Park (San Diego) and was standing in line for a turkey leg. There was a cute guy in front of me wearing the ubiquitous puffy white shirt, breaches and boots, talking to another guy about how his sword fighting partner had dropped out at the last minute so he wasn’t gonna get to perform, and how bummed he was about it. I immediately piped up “I’ll do it!” I was young, I was cute, and I was serious. Long story short, he taught me the basics of choreography in an hour and I performed my first fight a few minutes after that.
I fell totally in love with it – I’d always been drawn to sword-fighting in films (Richard Lester’s Three and Four Musketeers remain my favorites) and to get a chance to actually do it? I was so there. So I trained with a few different choreographers and organizations, including SAFD (Society of American Fight Directors) and the Academy of Theatrical Combat. I was part of several performing sword groups, including Rose and Rapier and the Duelists (we’d teach fight workshops at Comic Con and other conventions, and did a ton of Ren Faire performances), did some movies and … sigh. Fun days.
My husband has a fencing background and we still work out together, but not nearly as often as either of us would like.
GGS: I love that story—how a spontaneous decision turned into something you love. So cool!
Many of my readers are writers as well, and they enjoy hearing about other writers’ process. Do you have any writing rituals? Any favorite music?
Dana: Unlike my mutant husband, who likes to start writing first thing in the morning, I like – okay fine, I NEED – to start my day with coffee and a walk on the beach with my dog, if work schedule permits. I also get the basic housecleaning done (litter boxes and sweeping) so my writing space is relatively pleasant. I then pick out music, or a background movie (something that creates white noise without being intrusive). Next I clear opportunistic feline(s) off my lap and laptop, and repeat as necessary throughout my writing session. Then I write.
It usually takes me a good half hour to an hour to get any momentum going, although I’m learning to take advantage of brief periods of free time during any given day. The more I do that, the faster I can get into whatever project I’m working on. If I’m in one of my ‘every word I write is crap’ modes, I switch to my Alphasmart “Neo” and just let the words pour out without worrying about second guessing, double-checking, typos, logic, etc. The editing process can be a bit of a pain when I upload my Neo sessions onto my laptop into MS Word, but I’ve found it’s worth it for the forward momentum and sometimes epic final word count after the edits are done.
As far as music goes, I tend to listen to film scores or other stuff that’s purely instrumental, or at least has lyrics in a language other than English. I love nouveau flamenco, for instance. I discovered I can also write to the Kongas – their most recent CD with the hit song “Come With Me Now” was a large portion of the ‘soundtrack’ for Expat, a story I wrote for the fourth V-Wars anthology. I also listened to the score for Under Fire and tossed in some Peruvian flute music. 🙂 It entirely depends on the mood of whatever I’m writing. For Plague Town, I listened pretty much non-stop to the Twilight score, and for the next two books in the series, it was Tron: Legacy and The Dead.
GGS: Yeah, I can’t really listen to music with lyrics when I write, either. I will have to check out the tunes you recommended.
Let’s shift gears. Because it’s Women in Horror Month, I have to ask a special question. Do you feel that being female has given you a unique perspective as a horror author? If so, could you describe that perspective?
Dana: Oh dear, I feel like I should go into a deep and very serious account of how the blood and agony of childbirth gives any woman a unique perspective, but… I’ve never had kids, and I don’t think bottle-feeding kittens counts. I guess I feel that everyone has their own unique perspective on any genre, given their background, upbringing, religion or lack thereof, phobias, etc. Women are traditionally more vulnerable and I think that vulnerability (generally being physically weaker than men, just to give an example) lends itself to creating some viscerally frightening moments that rely less on splattering gore and more on the psychological buildup. I also know some female authors who love them their spattering gore, mind you!
And interestingly enough, I just found this snippet from an earlier interview asking a similar question, to which I replied:
Women tend to be more open and expressive with their emotions (although that’s thankfully changing, at least to some degree) and I’d prefer to have a lead character that is equally open and expressive because it’s just more fun. And by “open and expressive” I don’t mean has a tendency to burst into tears at any given moment, or have hormonally fueled irrational outbursts (and fyi, guys, just because a woman loses her temper or gets upset does not necessarily indicate the presence of PMS, got it?). I have a temper and have been known to respond emotionally, but I’m also very logical. And I like writing main characters that share these characteristics.
GGS: Thank you. That was a thoughtful answer. More vulnerability and being more open with our emotions definitely sets us apart and gives us a unique angle to mine for stories, for sure.
Lastly, which female horror author (living or dead), do you most admire, and why?
Dana: Argh… I hate choosing my favorites of anything! The first name that springs to my mind is Barbara Hambly, someone not really known for horror as much as fantasy and mystery novels, but some of her novels deal with things as horrific as anything Stephen King’s ever written about. Her Darwath Chronicles is creepy as hell, with some truly memorable scenes right out of nightmares. She knows how to set the mood, build it slowly, and leave just enough to the readers’ imagination that there’s never a ‘jump the shark’ moment.
GGS: Dana, thanks so much for appearing on my blog today. Readers, please connect with Dana at the following links:
• Website/Blog: www.danafredsti.com
• Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1214140.Dana_Fredsti
• Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dana.fredsti.inara.lavey (I also have an author page, but tend to use this one more often) (GG’s note: You have to be logged in to Facebook to see this)
• Twitter: https://twitter.com/zhadi1